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"bardo Thodol"...


Guest ___ L@the_of_Heaven___

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Oh what a topic.

Oh what a night.

Bardo Thodol is the jewel in the crown, the single most beautiful, yes beautiful, and profound piece of televisual chocolate ever realised.

Bardo Thodol is one of the most profound pieces of television I have ever seen. It is one of the best in my book though I have seen it called the worst of the whole three seasons so I guess it divides by it's own elusiveness. Anyone with any alchemical background is just bombarded, and I mean bombarded, by alchemical symbolism and concepts throughout though quite why such an obscure, chymical science was chosen as a backdrop is beyond me, to almost everyone with more worldly and earthy interests it appears dazzingly incoherent and inconclusive. It tries to marry the idea of man as progenitor and God as progenitor, it was a Tibetan Mary-Shelley-fest, an alchemical wedding, a man forming life in his image, exchanging the dust and breath of God for biogenesis and stem cell manipulation. What occurs, as in all good Frankenstein homages, is a catastrophic distortion of science beyond the man-God's capabilities to reign it it. Takahasi succeeds in creating 'life' and growth in organisms beyond the scientific definition of that very concept: he creates life without any pre-requisite for its existence...

The red lacquer bowl catches the nectar of God in Tibetan ritual - the nectar being similar in concept to what the Hebrews termed Ruasch or Holy Spirit. What Takahasi succeeds in forming is life without God's nectar, a thing outside of science and far away from God. Ravaged by his own creature, in this case 'metastasis' caused by his own experimentation, he seeks comfort and redemption in the forgiving God only there is no confession and absolution only the spiritual maxim that what is, simply is.....'I am what I am' and this could explain Takahashi's need for Frank: the need for someone who stands between the two worlds of science and spirit. As he found comfort in neither, he is a splintered man, a fractured spirit who is rejecting his science but fearing the rejection of his God. He is looking for a friend and a mediator.

Quite why the 'Group' seeks the bowl is decidedly unclear though there are occasions throughout where it seems pivotal that the bowl is a fractured bowl and time is given, in Frank's visions, to showing us the fragment, the bowl and some form of revelatory fire. It is my theory that since Takahasi has developed the ability to imbue dead, inert matter with life then he surely encoded his research, his process, into the inorganic composition of the lacquer bowl which seems apt as in Tibetan symbolism the bowl represents the receptacle for God's wisdom. Clearly he has also placed this knowledge within himself though the intimation is that 'organic' matter is corrupted and damaged by whatever science he has birthed. When Peter describes the process of the making of the lacquer bowl the metals he notes are a standard alchemical formula, and there is much alchemical symbolism in this episode, for the creation of the philosophers stone: the art of marrying matter and spirit is essential. Interestingly if the alchemical process was a success the material in the flash would turn ruby red: the colour the bowl.

I also believe that it was the 'Millennium Group' who sent Frank the computer virus as its message is identical to the ideologies explained by Lilly Unser in 'Matryoshka': that man would ultimately become the architect of his own destruction, the Millennium Group's realisation that this was the 'truth' after the discovery of the atomic bomb. Peter Watts is to state something similar to this in a few episodes but memory does not serve me well enough to note them. Its meaning is, as Lilly describes, that man has all the tools to end his own existence without the need for any heavenly or astronomical intervention. And this emphasis on man stealing God's job mandate is echoed in many of the principle components of 'Bardo Thodol'. It is also my theory that, as the Millennium Group 'misused' Takahasi's research, that this process and all the stem cell associated trappings would ultimately become the 'switching on' procedure used upon James Hollis as stem cells are now being hailed as a potential panacea for Alzheimers.

One of the most alarming aspects of Bardo Thodol is 'implied' rather that trumpeted. That clinic 701 may be a Millennium Group offshoot to allow them access to 'ripe' stem cells. The first infant cell divides and starts a cascade of reactions that turns one fertilised egg into 1,000 billion cells of more than 200 different kinds. How it does this is a whole series of mysteries, but one key to this lies in first stem cells from which all bone, skin, blood and nerves subsequently stem. These appear in the first 14 days, before the cell implants in the womb. With this realisation it is SO clear why the Millennium group is using clinic 710 to perform abortions, it wants fresh stem cells. As it is said....."We can help you calculate your conception date.." Yeah! I bet they can.

I think the reason that Bardo Thodol is set against Buddhism is no accident, cloning/recycling of life are both different means to the same end. If you read a description of the four 'Bardos' it is a rather fitting analogy for cloning: The first two Bardos concern themselves with acclimatisation and evaluation. When the soul has reached the third Bardo they feel they have a body but when they realise this is not so, the desire one. Then comes the Third Bardo, which is the state of seeking another birth. All previous thoughts and actions direct the person to choose new parents, who will give them their next body: God does 'Dolly the Sheep'.

This backdrop of Buddhism fits neatly into the episode's discourse on science and spirit. As Frank's 'apocalypse' computer virus clearly depicts: man is taking over God's role as author of his own genesis and destruction. I

Bardo Thodol is so perplexing you can bet your bottom dollar there are as many interpretations as there are bowls. There is a possibilty that two scenes were cut from the final draught as the original Fox synopsis details two events that do not make it to the final version: one of which depicts Peter's anger with Mabius when it transpires he has taken the wrong bowl (it is Frank who has the 'real' one as used in the funerary scene) so I guess it does lend credence to the fact that a very specific bowl was lusted after - shame then that the MM group got the wrong one. This scene makes sense to me, if you believe the concept, that the bowl is encoded with Takahashi's life-sustaining and regenerative science then the splintered bowl would indicate that this was not the one.

Ultimately after boring you into your slippers for an age this 'IS' Millennium, the harmonious conclusion of troubled Seasons, unsure of science and spirit, unified in such a candle-draped, incense-filled way. In my wildest dreams, as a creative soul, I dream of writing something as nebulous and beauteous as this and my heartfelt thanks extend to the magic of Chris Carter of giving this gift to a grey pallette of televisual mundanity.

Edited by ethsnafu

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I watched this most marvelous compote of mysticism and science tonight and something hit me, slap-like, that I had never noticed before. Whilst I was sure the whole 'thing' was about Alchemy, it's referenced repeatedly throughout the narrative, I never had that x-marks-the-spot, road to Damascus moment when I could be sure, until...

It is frequently and ignorantly assumed that the Alchemists were concerned with the transubstantiation of lead into gold which renders something so expansive into something so balnd. Alchemy is a complex subject with many different interconnected aspects. Many people still only think of the quest of the philosophers' stone to change base metals into gold. The search for Gold was an analogous representation of the Alchemist true goal of emulating God, they desired to take the base and the corrupt and instill it with 'spirit' in order to imbue it with life, the very act of creation they attempted in the fume filled chymical sanctums of ages past.

That said, I had always causally watched the closing scenes of the hands enthroned by ice and given it much less thought than it deserved. Astonishingly the hands do not decay upon Takahasi's death, what we see is most certainly not necrotic tissue which is a palette of flesh color and the subtle blues and greens of decay, but a solid, harsh representation of metal. The hands were never alive, they neither grew nor were they cloned but they were the base metal of the Alchemists given life through Takahashi's rebis of occultism and science. The radius bone that extends from the palmar aspect of one of the severed hands is polished metal, rounded, bevelled.

This episode just astounds me every time I drink it in.

Simply superb.

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Guest Jim McLean

I'm going to keep humble on this one, both in awe of so much I didn't understand and your own concise and logical explanations E.

I totally agree with these strands you've so neatly pulled out into clear, straight lines. Yes, alchemy is the key, and maybe something the story doesn't spend enough time drawing the audience towards (as with all work that has C.J's involvement, sometimes it feels the audience is expected to work a little harder than the writer ;)). The hands do revert to metal.

Now it could be said the subtexts are there - you saw them, so does the show need to spoon feed? I'd say in this instance, yes, a little. The non explicit mixes of science and mysticism don't play any real obvious fusion beyond the intentions of the Takahasi and the Buddhism, but as you say, go far deeper. I can't help feeling the episode loses something if the audience misses that link. It's funny, but Andy's comment to Hollis about the lab not being what Hollis sees, sort of plays a scripted allegory for the audience's experience with the hands; they are not grown by science, as the audience presumes, the fusion between science and mysticism is far more profound.

Without contradicting myself, while I ended up confused, and wishing for a few more hooks to the relevance of the alchemy, I'm glad the link wasn't overplayed as I could imagine it being done in the X-Files, where the metal hands would have been a far more blatant payoff. The subtleties made this episode.

I'm surprised the episode removed the Peter Watts arc. I'm not sure why, whether to make his role more ambiguous (and thereby play better with Frank's final comment), or simply for time. Personally, I think the fact it wasn't the bowl the MG had spent the whole time pursuing was a necessary resolution that required that final synopsised scene of Peter smashing the bowl.

The Buddhism relevance came through nice and clear, and part of me wishes the conspiracy had been played down more, and the episode risked centering more on the dying Takahasi, as that's where the core of this episode lies. The conspiracy tells us nothing and offers no more new drama than we'd see in the X-Files. Take that out, and keep the investigation to a minimum, and Frank's dynamic with Takahasi and the Monk could have been far deeper and dramatic. I was beginning to feel the fear and frustration of Takahasi with Frank's debut to his room, but I never felt the relationship between the two was fully expanded upon to its full potential.

One of the biggest problems with season three has been the FBI. While the change of pace, ambiance and characters made a welcome change of tone, ultimately, I never felt this FBI was as believable as the Seattle detectives. I didn't feel Andy ever worked any more than as a cliche boss, with little that made me feel that he had any leadership power. As I've said, I've found Hollis a mixed blessing, and overall, the rather simple FBI role in Millennium just doesn't feel quite the same world as season one. Season Three does have some of the more powerful and gripping ideas of the whole series, but its let down by the FBI's inclusion and the conspiracies they are constantly born to fumble around.

I think presuming the bowl having some relevance to the process seems logical. As with many Millennium episodes, one could find a rational and spiritual reason why the bowl could be the hub of the process - the mystical ideas you describe E are fascinating. Maybe the bowl is the true fusion, given the science seems to be born in flashes of fire (Frank's vision).

So where do you see Peter in all this? According to the synopsis, there was question within the group to Peter's intentions. What do you see Peter's role in this episode to be? Is he trying to stop what the MG are doing? Is there an ideological confusion which Frank seems to be hinting at?

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I absolutely agree with you on all your points Laredo, something of a cliche of late lol.

'Bardo' is incredibly ambitious and it spends its time winking to those in the know whilst forgetting that Old-Joe-Soap has no interest in sciences past, metaphysical or otherwise. This episode should have taken the viewer by the hand and fed them less elusive clues as to the function of the narrative and the arcane framework it was built upon but it strikes me as a glib response to Anamnesis, an episode that plunged into a Kabbalistic commentary on Gnosticism but gently led the viewer through the considerations therein. This was a bold and daring attempt to be less blatant, with elements of vainglory to boot, that generally baffles rather than entices.

I agree with your comments on Andy who, to my mind, is grotesque and chews his way through the scenery with all the prowess of a character from 'Police Academy' and is awfully clownish. Baldwin is annoying-nerd-by-numbers and Hollis is a an ever present backstory and whilst this series raises its game, conceptually, head and shoulders above the rest it is hampered by the blandness of the supporting characters.

As for the mighty Watts.

As I noted the original script had Mabius presenting the bowl to Watts so it is clear that the original intention was to define Watts as the puppeteer of the show. His role here is somewhat ill-defined and what time is given to him turns its attention to the forthcoming temptation of Hollis but the startling thing is Frank's appraisal of Watts. Previously Watts has represented Old-Scratch to Frank, the progenitor of his woes, the arch-manipulator, the salacious murderer and keeper of the 'Millennium Group's Carnal Houses' and yet here we find him rebuffing Hollis' assertion that Watts personifies evil. An argument could be made that since Frank has emphatically shared the redemption of Takahashi his faith is restored that even in the transitional phase between life and death atonement, forgiveness and the banishment of the ego can occur.

Aside from that I adore this episode and it argues with me for top place against Anamnesis but I have nothing but understanding for those who this is nothing but 43 minutes of head scratching.

On a final note..

This backdrop of Buddhism fits neatly into the episode's discourse on science and spirit. As Frank's 'apocalypse' computer virus clearly depicts: man is taking over God's job description as author of his own genesis, and destruction. It is also interesting to note that had this episode been set against the rich backdrop of Islam, say, it would have been entirely different. Buddha categorized a fetus into eight levels as outlined in one Buddhist text, and the earliest stage of embryonic development was not included in the grouping, stem cell research could be carried out therefore without offending the tenets of the religion...the age old question: 'when is a life not a life?' seems clearly answered here.

Anyone else notice how Tibetan funerary rites have so much in common with those employed by the group in Roosters?

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Edited by ethsnafu

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Guest Jim McLean
I agree with your comments on Andy who, to my mind, is grotesque and chews his way through the scenery with all the prowess of a character from 'Police Academy' and is awfully clownish. Baldwin is annoying-nerd-by-numbers and Hollis is a an ever present backstory and whilst this series raises its game, conceptually, head and shoulders above the rest it is hampered by the blandness of the supporting characters.

While its not as bad as "MONK" with his Captain and Lt being the singular representatives of San Francisco's Homicide unit (no sgts or Detectives required), the Washington FBI doesn't feel as broad as it should. Baldwin, Andy and Hollis seem to be the only relevant agents we see, and that doesn't help give the show any feeling of realism.

As for the mighty Watts.

As I noted the original script had Mabius presenting the bowl to Watts so it is clear that the original intention was to define Watts as the puppeteer of the show. His role here is somewhat ill-defined and what time is given to him turns its attention to the forthcoming temptation of Hollis but the startling thing is Frank's appraisal of Watts. Previously Watts has represented Old-Scratch to Frank, the progenitor of his woes, the arch-manipulator, the salacious murderer and keeper of the 'Millennium Group's Carnal Houses' and yet here we find him rebuffing Hollis' assertion that Watts personifies evil. An argument could be made that since Frank has emphatically shared the redemption of Takahashi his faith is restored that even in the transitional phase between life and death atonement, forgiveness and the banishment of the ego can occur.

I felt when watching it that Watts role wasn't as sinister as the MG - whatever his role is - and Frank's contact with Buddhism helped him see that and transgress some of his past certainties with Watts. Certainly, the synopsis starts with the MG being concerned with Watt's movements, so I did feel that whatever Watts was doing, it was on his desire alone. I wondered if it was him who sent the message to bring Frank in and hopefully disrupt the MG's plans on this externally; that was why he was lingering around the FBI, not for the MG, but because he was checking up on the process of his pawns. That Hollis' attack on him in the lab wasn't accurate, that he wanted Hollis to see what he did because again it would disrupt the MG movements on this front. It doesn't strike me he was there to gloat at Hollis in the FBI building - he wasn't meant to be there at all, and if the unused opener of Watt's role with the MG shows not all his movements are tracked, then maybe his appearance at the FBI also wasn't. Maybe he was meant to be away on MG business. Maybe he has more faith in Hollis than she credits and getting to the labs not only causes the outcome he desires but proves her potential.

How that ties in with his frustration with the bowl I don't know. Maybe an act, as it was the outcome he desired but knows he had to keep hidden. I do feel if the show played out as intended, that Watt's actions would have been far more subversive and that would have created a very strong tie with Frank's insight at the end of the story.

Anyone else notice how Tibetan funerary rites have so much in common with those employed by the group in Roosters?

Lol, no I hadn't!

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Guest Laurent.

I'm sorry to intrude on your brilliant discussion but I must make a quick "off topic" argument to defend Barry Baldwin; if you don't mind of course.

I think that the supporting characters introduced in season three (Hollis, Baldwin and McLaren) are meant to represent more human characters (I'm not saying they were perfectly crafted characters.. I'll come back on this in a few lines). Characters with qualities and flaws like we've always seen in Millennium, but mostly free will. In the first two seasons of Millennium characters were much more black and white; the good guys and bad guys. The only shaded area possibles were characters where you just weren't sure where their allegiance rested. There was not a lot of character evolution in the supporting roles, the only exception being Peter Watts and I don't even dare call him a "supporting character".

Season three starts with three new characters that are quickly defined (too quickly maybe, but that's not the point). And I'm pretty sure that Baldwin was meant to be irritating, especially in comparison with the intuitive Hollis who seems to be a perfect partner for Frank. What makes them interesting is that they both, through the course of many episodes, make a complete shift in personal convictions. Baldwin slowly begin to fight for Frank's respect and he eventually tries Frank's profiling technique in the last episodes while Emma ends up joining the dark side.

My opinion on season three's supportive cast is that the basic ideas behind the characters were very good but Hollis' force-fed past (tragedy that were not necessarily the tragedies we wanted the show to deal with... Frank had just lost his wife!!) and McLaren's shallowness made it really hard to care. I think Baldwin was the best of these characters. He was annoying as he was meant to be in the beginning as an ambitious a-hole but he was never forced upon the audience; he never had too much screen time and was never there when his presence was not needed. Then at the end you just realize that Baldwin, like most real-life people, is just not what you would believe at first sight. And I think that this is exactly what television series can do best; evolve a character much more slowly than theater or movies can afford to do. Baldwin is just not the "by the numbers" character we believed he was in the first episodes of the season.. too bad he died just as we were meant to realize that.

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Guest Laurent.
How that ties in with his frustration with the bowl I don't know. Maybe an act, as it was the outcome he desired but knows he had to keep hidden. I do feel if the show played out as intended, that Watt's actions would have been far more subversive and that would have created a very strong tie with Frank's insight at the end of the story.

Wonderful post Laredo. I must admit that I never analyzed Watt's actions in the episode which is just what I'm going to do in a few minutes (I'm finally on vacation.. it's millennium time!)

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what you meant in the last sentence that I quoted.

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Guest Laurent.

Sorry about the triple post... but I just finished the episode only seconds ago. It's such a brilliant episode. There are a few moments that really defined the characters and I still think that in the end, the meaning of this episode is that it is all about the human character. Understand that and you are liberated. Frank understood and obviously, from her last confrontation with Watts, Hollis didn't. I also loved the scene when Frank visits the boat and discover the bodies executed "millennium group style". First thing he does when he sees the body is button up his coat.. keeping the darkness away, classic Frank black moment.

About Peter Watts, like you Laredo I think it was him who sent Frank the message/virus to bring him on the case. But I don't think he did to disturb the Group's plan. I feel it was a test for both Hollis and Frank. Hollis thought that she passed by making it to the lab though I'm not sure that this was the only purpose of the test. "Understand and you are liberated". Hollis didn't understand, she didn't learn anything in the course of the episode. During the scene with the dying doctor and Mabius breaking in the monastery, Frank is able to let go the case. He stops asking question to Takahashi to assure that he will die peacefully. Now I'm pretty sure that Hollis failed this test but maybe that is what Watts' hoped. Maybe that is exactly why he knew he'd be able to bring her in the Group. I don't think that Watts' hoped Hollis and Frank would find the bowl before the Group. Maybe it was really only a test of character.

I may be completely wrong about this episode. But I really feel like Frank and Emma had to learn something about the human character in general. I love it because at the same time, the episode managed to teach us something. Did you notice that the message in the virus had numbers?

"1). We are racing toward an apocalypse of our own creation."

...

"5) Don't change the ideals, change the people."

Are we suppose to guess what the other three messages were based on the different acts of the episode? Maybe there is also a hidden test of character for the viewer.

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Guest Jim McLean
About Peter Watts, like you Laredo I think it was him who sent Frank the message/virus to bring him on the case. But I don't think he did to disturb the Group's plan. I feel it was a test for both Hollis and Frank. Hollis thought that she passed by making it to the lab though I'm not sure that this was the only purpose of the test. "Understand and you are liberated". Hollis didn't understand, she didn't learn anything in the course of the episode. During the scene with the dying doctor and Mabius breaking in the monastery, Frank is able to let go the case. He stops asking question to Takahashi to assure that he will die peacefully. Now I'm pretty sure that Hollis failed this test but maybe that is what Watts' hoped. Maybe that is exactly why he knew he'd be able to bring her in the Group. I don't think that Watts' hoped Hollis and Frank would find the bowl before the Group. Maybe it was really only a test of character.

Could be. I do wonder if to a degree he is again, observing Hollis. My only problem with this take is the point I didn't make clear in my last post (which you quoted), that Frank's observation seems to tie into Peter's arc. The synopsis states (and what was cut from the ep) "Peter Watts is called before the Millennium Group to answer questions regarding recent unauthorized actions." that implies to me he isn't working to the MG agenda.

And that coupled with Frank's comment that Peter's actions may not be as pure evil as Hollis suggested, implies to me that Peter's actions throughout the episode are not totally in line with the MG on this issue. I don't think the original opener would have implied that Peter's actions aren't totally in line with the MG to have him working alongside the MG's intentions throughout this episode. To be just testing Hollis for suitability - unless he has a deeper agenda - doesn't entirely figure with this narrative track. I would love to find out why his parts were radically edited from the final cut.

I can only conclude if Peter sent the message to Frank, and that Peter's recent actions within the MG have been questionable, that his motives are not in line with the MG, that what the MG wants in this episode is perhaps not entirely what Peter Watts wants.

I may be completely wrong about this episode. But I really feel like Frank and Emma had to learn something about the human character in general. I love it because at the same time, the episode managed to teach us something. Did you notice that the message in the virus had numbers?

"1). We are racing toward an apocalypse of our own creation."

...

"5) Don't change the ideals, change the people."

Are we suppose to guess what the other three messages were based on the different acts of the episode? Maybe there is also a hidden test of character for the viewer.

I can see I'm going to be back to the episode this weekend..! But yes, I agree that Frank learns something about human nature and maybe his perspective on the MG this episode. Whether Hollis does is unclear to me. Maybe she's just an example of the non-application of the Buddhist practice doesn't distance you from the group but in fact draws you emotionally closer.

Edited by Jim McLean
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What an amazingly insightful thread. Thank you all for the in depth coverage of what I had thought was a somewhat disjointed episode I had made some of the connections but only a few. :notworthy: Now I will be re-watching it with a renewed interest and appreciation.

I must say on a preferential note that I would like to believe that Watts was questioning the MG. Originally his character was a “true believer” but as time had passed and through his experiences with Frank elements of his faith had been tested and questions raised. I can relate to that charater trait I guess.

I would have loved to know, had the series continued, if Watts would have held to his true beliefs, those things that attracted him to the MG originally and worked within the MG to change their direction back to those beliefs or bailed out altogether?

Watts the catalyst to get Frank into the Group then Frank the catalyst to get Watts out of the Group?

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